A couple of weeks ago (yes, I know I’m behind :-), Scott Berkun asked in Teaching programming / management the Harvard way“Anyone have examples of CASE or situation based courses for managers, designers and programmers? Undergraduate or graduate?”
Yes, Scott, I do. When I teach program management and software methodology (at the graduate level at The Gordon Institute, I create projects that the students run and produce. And, Esther and I are developing our management offerings with activities and simulations.
It’s possible the case method approach that Harvard and other business schools are known for works. I certainly like discussing topics. And hindsight is 20/20. But for me, case studies are like hypothetical questions in an interview. Unless you structure the questions carefully, people are more likely to tell you what they think they would do, rather than how they would actually act.
I prefer practices in the form of practicing a skill with peer feedback, or simulations. I do add discussions in my workshops, because I do find that they provide a valuable airing of opinions. But I don’t believe people learn from the discussions. People learn from doing and debriefing what they did.
I’m not the only one who feels strongly about this. At the AYE Conference, all the hosts and guest speakers develop interactive sessions so that people have a chance to practice or explore something. The burden is on us as session leaders (and me as the teacher at The Gordon Institute) to create an environment in which people can learn. That’s not easy.
It’s possible that the case method works just as well for other people, but it doesn’t work well for me. I get all caught up in my head, and don’t realize that when I’m in the situation, I’m not acting the way I thought I would. That’s why I prefer activities where I have a chance to practice or simulations where I can explore a variety of tactics. Since I prefer learning that way, I teach that way. And, no, not everyone likes it. But the feedback I consistently receive is that people learn way more using practice with activities and simulations as long as we debrief them.
I don’t have the opportunity to teach at the undergraduate level, but when I teach my daughters things, we practice. If you teach (anything at any level), I encourage you to add practices and simulations to your teaching. The teaching is more fun and the students love it.